As the House of Representatives prepares to vote again on repealing the Affordable Care Act, it's easy to dismiss the effort as political theater. But for millions of Americans who rely on the law's benefits and protections, the devastating effects of repeal would be all too real. Here's what repeal would mean in concrete terms for families in Pennsylvania and across the country.
Thanks to the law, all Americans with insurance are now protected from some of the insurance industry's worst abuses, like having their coverage canceled when they get sick just because they made a mistake on an application, or facing a lifetime dollar cap on benefits. Already, 4.6 million Pennsylvania residents, including 1.8 million women and 1.1 million children, are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage.
For people like Judy, a nurse I met who's battling stage four breast cancer, these protections can be the difference between life and death. Judy has good insurance but her expensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments mean that without the law she'd likely hit her lifetime cap in just a few years. For Judy and millions more Americans, repeal would mean a return to knowing they could lose their coverage at any time.
For tens of millions of Americans with health insurance, repeal would also mean paying more for preventive care. Under the law, 54 million people with private health insurance, including 236,3000 in Pennsylvania, can now get free preventive care like vaccinations, check-ups and cancer screenings. Repeal would mean hundreds of dollars in savings a year could disappear.
For people in communities facing a shortage of doctors and nurses, repeal would make it even harder to get the quality care they need to stay healthy. The health care law is building and expanding community health centers in medically underserved regions and training thousands of doctors and nurses who will provide primary care around the country. This investment would slow dramatically if the law were repealed.
Repeal would take us back to the days when insurance companies were not accountable to anyone. With the new law, your insurance company generally has to spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on health care and quality improvements, not CEO salaries or advertising. If they don't, you get a rebate. This summer 312,000 Pennsylvania families with private insurance will benefit from an average of $165 in rebates as a result of this new provision.
For seniors, repeal would mean they'd lose free preventive care, like cancer screenings and annual wellness visits now available under Medicare without co-pay. Millions of seniors who reach the Medicare prescription drug donut hole would also see their 50-percent discount vanish if the health care law is repealed. Since the law was enacted, 5.2 million Medicare beneficiaries in the donut hole have saved more than $3.7 billion on prescription drugs. In the first five months of 2012, 17,664 people with Medicare in Pennsylvania received an average savings of $688. Repealing the law would add hundreds of dollars in additional costs for many seniors.
Repealing health reform would also stop promising new efforts to crack down on Medicare fraud. The health care law provides law enforcement and surveillance systems that helped authorities recover a record $4 billion in taxpayer dollars last year alone. Every dollar we put into fighting fraud returns more than $7 to the taxpayers, but this will slow to a halt if the law is overturned.
Finally, repeal would mean that millions of Americans would lose their insurance. Three million young adults may not be covered any longer on their parents' health plans, including 91,000 in Pennsylvania. Insurance companies could once again throw children with pre-existing conditions like asthma and diabetes off a family policy, or refuse to cover their illness. And repealing the health care law would threaten the lives of 5,355 in Pennsylvania with serious health conditions like cancer who are getting life-saving care today thanks to a program for people who cannot otherwise find coverage.
The Supreme Court last month upheld the Affordable Care Act. To ensure that hard-working, middle-class families finally get the security they deserve, we need to move forward on the Affordable Care Act. The last thing Congress should do is repeal these critical protections.
Kathleen Sebelius is U.S. secretary of health and human services.